Smell. It’s one of the 5 human senses. Most of the time we are unaware of the power of scent, and just how much it affects our brains and other senses, but yet at every moment it is enriching our experience of the world around us. It is only when we lose our sense of smell, such as when we have a cold, that we really notice how much we rely on our sense of smell.
In this blog we are going to be discussing scent and the power that it holds, how it affects certain areas of our brain and how it plays an important role in emotional regulation, memory, and even social bonding and safety.
How scent affects the brain
Unlike our other senses, our sense of smell is unique in that it bypasses the area of the brain for sensory processing and goes directly to the Olfactory Bulb located in the frontal cortex. This area directly connects to the most primitive part of our brain, the Limbic System.
The Limbic System is a part of the deep brain comprised of the hippocampus, the hypothalamus and the amygdala. It has carefully evolved over millennia for emotional and behavioural regulation, especially when it comes to our survival, and also for long-term memory, motivation and learning.
The role of scent on emotional regulation and memory
So we know how scent is processed in the brain, but how does it affect our emotions and memories exactly? It’s all down to the close relationship of the hippocampus and the amygdala. The hippocampus is responsible for transferring short-term memories into long-term memories, and can thus store certain smells in our memory. The amygdala is responsible for emotional regulation in reaction to sensory stimuli.
Smell is a type of stimuli that our brain senses and reacts to. Therefore, when we smell something, it triggers stored memories from our past, and subsequently creates either a negative or positive emotional response to that smell in the amygdala. This explains why we are transported back to a holiday from our childhood spent with our family when we get the whiff of a certain type of suncream. Or when we are immersed back into a memory of when we first fell in love because of a perfume that we wore.
Smell is so amazingly powerful that it has the ability to shift our emotions in a millisecond and create strong visual images in our minds and evoke memories of the distant past.
Scent and social bonding
Another interesting fact about scent is the important role it plays in social bonding. Humans are constantly assessing each other with our noses. Unlike other animals, this is of course done far more subtly and is mostly a subconscious process. Scent is important for bonding with our friends, family, and our children.
Humans, like other mammals, give off chemical scents, or ‘chemosignals’ known as Pheromones. Each human will have pheromones unique to the next, and these pheromone will contain important genetic information such as information about health, reproductive ability, social status, stress levels, and even recently consumed foods. This makes scent an extremely important factor in attraction and mate selection. When we feel attracted to someone it is because our olfactory system is subconsciously signalling to our brain that their genes are compatible with ours.
Our sense of smell also plays an imperative role in keeping us safe. Much like our ability to detect others pheromones for social bonding, the same is true for avoiding certain social situations. Studies have shown that we can actually smell people’s emotions. Have you ever gotten an uneasy feeling when you were somewhere prompting you to leave, but you couldn’t explain why? This could be down to your sense of smell picking up negative or even dangerous emotions in others.
Research shows that we have the ability to detect emotions in other’s sweat, both positive and negative. Our sweat will actually smell different depending on if we are happy, relaxed, fearful, stressed, or angry. Even more interestingly, our own emotions are affected by other’s scents too and will react to the emotions of others. When we smell someone that is stressed we too may feel more stressed and tired. Conversely when we smell someone that is happy and excited we will also feel more positive and energetic.
Another way in which scent keeps us safe is through our ability to smell harmful odours such as gone off food and drink, or poisonous odours such as dangerous gases. Smell also aids in taste, and further enables us to detect foods and drinks that may be harmful to us.
Using scent to boost our mood
So with all of this in mind, we now know that certain scents can either increase or decrease our mood depending on our relationship with those smells. So why not use it to our advantage? When we smell something that is pleasant to us, our brain releases feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals play an important role in feelings of well-being, happiness and also affect motivation.
Therefore lighting a scented candle or using a diffuser that we like whilst we work at our desk can actually boost our motivation and productivity. Scents such as jasmine, rose, peppermint and ylang ylang have been proven to awaken our brains and boost energy levels and productivity. Coffee has also been proven to do this, not only does it boost alertness after drinking it, it also has the same effect when we smell it.
Alternatively, if we want to promote feelings of relaxation, scents such as lavender, lemon-balm, bergamot, vanilla, patchouli and sandalwood are excellent at soothing our senses and aiding with sleep. Simply having a diffuser with some of these scents placed in your bedroom will assure you a better nights sleep.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious scents such as bergamot orange, lavender, clary sage, neroli, rose, and the most effective of all, lavender, can help reduce the stress hormone cortisol, promoting feelings of calmness.
Why not light a candle of your favourite scent to relax and unwind, spritz some perfume to boost your mood and confidence, or take a moment to savour the smell of your morning coffee to help awaken your senses! So wake up and smell the coffee! or roses! or whatever makes you happy!
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.” – Helen Keller
Plantes & Parfums
Why not envelop your home in beautiful aromas to evoke feelings of relaxation and comfort this autumn and wintertime with some beautiful and luxurious Plantes & Parfums scented homeware. Plantes & Parfums is a brand established in Provence, France.
Over the past 35 years they have specialised in the making of opulent homeware, such as candles, diffusers and room sprays, along with body products such as body lotions, shower gels, soaps, hand creams and hand sanitisers. Their products are +90% of natural origin, containing ingredients sourced from natural plant extracts with no harmful synthetics. Their candles are hand-poured and made from 100% vegetable soy wax combined with a cotton wick and scented with natural perfumes from Grasse.
Plantes & Parfums are a brand committed to producing the most beautiful aromas that are inspired by the scents of nature en Provence.
You can browse the selection of Plantes & Parfums that we stock in our salon in Harold’s Cross, or on our online shop here.
Written by Deirdre Lynch, Senior Beauty Therapist
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